August 31, 2021
A groundbreaking study was released last year that gave parents a lot to think about.
Published in the journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, the study explored how screen time during a child’s toddler years impacts how active kids are several years later. While numerous studies have been conducted related to adolescent and college age students, this study provided brand new insights into the links between screen time and activity at an early age. And the results were clear.
The study found that children who had spent more time in front of a screen during their toddler years were likely to spend less time being physically active several years later. Those findings certainly suggest reason for concern, especially when studies like those from Common Sense Media tell us that kids below the age of 8 are spending an average of two and a half hours a day in front of screens.
There's no doubt that parents are increasingly concerned about the impacts of screen time on their kids. But what’s often overlooked in today’s conversations on screen time is the value of what's replaced.
We have answers from leading experts on why activity matters at an early age both physically and mentally for little ones.
Laura Vanston, DNP, CPNP-AC/PC
Kids are built to play! But due to many factors, including the growing prevalence of technology and screen time, kids have become much less active in the last few decades. But how much does it really matter? There are actually a number of long term effects that are important to know.
First, studies have shown that higher levels of physical activity in younger years leads to increased physical activity later in life, so being active early can help chart the course of a child’s health all the way through adulthood! In addition, school aged and adolescent children are learning fundamental motor skills that translate into specific activities or sports later on, so if children don’t have enough physical activity, they may miss out on the chance to more fully develop their motor skills and therefore lack confidence to participate in physical activities later in life!
On top of this, an adequate amount of exercise is vital to the development and maintenance of a child’s skeletal and cardiovascular health. This developing body is laying the foundation for a healthy body and metabolism into adulthood.
In addition to the more obvious benefits on the child’s body, physical activity in youth seems to also greatly improve their mind, both in cognition (learning) and overall brain function. Active children have been shown to do better in mathematics, reading/language, science and social studies, and they also often have longer attention spans and memory capacity when compared to children who are more sedentary. All this combines to mean that play isn’t just fun (though it is!), but physical activity is vital to the healthy development of both body and mind!
Laura is a pediatric nurse practitioner with a doctorate of nursing practice, and owner of Inspire Pediatrics, a Colorado-based virtual care and parent education service. Laura is passionate about providing well-researched perspectives that empower parents to make educated healthcare decisions for their families. She also provides convenient telehealth options in Colorado, so parents can navigate many childhood illnesses and concerns from the comfort of their own home. Follow her on Instagram at @inspirepediatrics or visit Inspire Pediatrics to learn more!
Gary Gilles, M.A., LCPC
It’s no secret that the pandemic has changed life for kids in so many ways. Surveys conducted at the end of 2020 showed that almost one-third of parents said that their child’s mental or emotional health had worsened during the pandemic.
Recent research has found that physical activity can be an excellent way to combat anxiety, depression and the social isolation many children have experienced. Let’s take a closer look at how physical activity can boost your child’s mental and emotional health.
When kids are active, their mind is engaged in the activity. That means they are less apt to focus on things that worry or concern them. In addition, physical movement sends out “feel-good” chemicals in the brain that improves mood and help guard against depression and anxiety. Regular physical activity is one of the best ways to help your child manage their stress.
Getting your child involved in a team sport can be an excellent way to reconnect them socially, and develop greater confidence and self-esteem. The better your child feels about themselves, the more likely they are to make friends, try new things and develop a resilience to stress. A less-stressed out child will also be more cooperative and less reactive in relationships.
Finally, think beyond just telling your child to “go outside and play.” Consider sharing an activity with them. Play ball, ride bikes, hike, swim or any activity that you can do together. Model the behavior you want them to practice and you will send a powerful message that physical activity is not only fun but a healthy way to keep physically and mentally healthy as they grow.
Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration, Trinity International University and Argosy University. He specializes in family psychology and emotional attachment and has developed over 30 online courses for various academic institutions and businesses. Learn more at Gary's website.
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